Heart research wins award for MicroCT imaging

11 December 2017

A team from ABI has won an award at the Biomedical Imaging Research Unit’s Annual Image Competition. Nazanin Ebrahimi, a PhD candidate, with help from ABI’s MicroCT and imaging manager Dane Gerneke and fellow PhD candidate Mahyar Osanlouy submitted a video that shows their unprecedented MicroCT scan of a rat embryo in its early stage of development. The entry was judged to be the winner in the Visualisation and Analysis category last Monday.

“It was very unexpected! But I feel happy about the achievement after working towards it,” Nazanin says.

Nazanin explains that the MicroCT scan was created as part of her PhD work, which seeks to understand how the heart develops in its early stages. The delicate embryo samples were typically 1 - 1.5mm in length, around the size of a flea. A scan was made using ABI’s MicroCT facility, which can "see through" the samples with details down to 0.45μm. The scan enabled her to visualise and measure the embryo in 3D, and see single-cell layers of the embryo’s heart. The video submitted to the competition is created using the scan data – it shows the whole embryo and then zooms into a cutaway view of the heart.

“To my knowledge, these MicroCT’d data are the first data at this early stage of heart development,” she says.

Photo of the very small embryo sample, resting on top of a pinhead. It is around the size of a flea.
The embryo sample is so small that it fits on top of the head of a pin.

There were challenges the team overcame to make the scan. First, the embryos had to be harvested from their mothers at very specific times around midnight. The harvesting process would typically take until the next morning. Once harvested, they had to be chemically prepared and mounted with extreme caution to ensure the samples are intact and undamaged for imaging. The small size and delicate nature of the samples made it more difficult. But the team was able to complete the scan in the end.

The scan helps Nazanin understand how the rat heart develops compared to hearts in other animals. The rat is a model organism, which means the rat heart is expected to develop in a similar way to the human heart. Although there is still more research to be done, she hopes her work can be used to understand the human heart development and congenital heart defects in the future.

The scan was done using ABI’s Bruker Skyscan 1272 MicroCT scanner. It was also used for another entry by Chan Jin from the Department of Physiology, which received Highly Commended in the Visualisation and Analysis category.

Dane and Nazanin have co-written a paper to outline the solutions they devised for some of the challenges. The paper was presented at the Micro-CT User Meeting in Brussels, Belgium earlier this year.



Watch the winning entry below: